Monica, lighting another cigarette, nodded. “Mmm-hmm,” she said.
“What you have to decide,” Kristy said to me, leaning forward, “is how you want your life to be. If your forever was ending tomorrow, would this be how you’d want to have spent it?” It seemed like it was a choice I had already made. I’d spent the last year and a half with Jason, shaping my life to fit his, doing what I had to in order to make sure I had a place in his perfect world, where things made sense. But it hadn’t worked.
“Listen,” Kristy said, “the truth is, nothing is guaranteed. You know that more than anybody.” She looked at me hard, making sure I knew what she meant. I did. “So don’t be afraid. Be alive.”
But then, I couldn’t imagine, after everything that had happened, how you could live and not constantly be worrying about the dangers all around you. Especially when you’d already gotten the scare of your life.
“It’s the same thing,” I told her.
“Being afraid and being alive.”
“No,” she said slowly, and now it was as if she was speaking a language she knew at first I wouldn’t understand, the very words, not to mention the concept, being foreign to me. “Macy, no. It’s not.”
It’s not, I repeated in my head, and looking back later, it seemed to me that was the moment everything really changed. When I said these words, not even aloud, and in doing so made my own wish: that for me this could somehow, someday, really be true.
A little bit later Kristy and Monica headed off to the keg again, but I stayed behind, sitting on the back bumper of the ambulance. I was feeling a bit woozy from the small amount of beer I’d had, not to mention everything Kristy had said. Too much to contemplate even under the best of conditions, now it was close to impossible.
I looked up after a few minutes to see Wes coming toward me from across the clearing. He had a bunch of metal rods under his arm—the rebar he’d been promised, I assumed. I just sat there watching him approach, his slow loping gait, and wondered what it would be like if he was coming to see me, coming to be with me. It wasn’t what I thought when I saw Jason; that was more a reassurance. With him in sight, I could always get my bearings. If anything, Wes was the opposite. One look, and I had no idea what I was doing.
“Hey,” he said as he got closer, and I made myself look up at him, as if surprised, oh look, there you are. Which worked fine, until he sat down next to me, and again I felt that looseness, something inside me coming undone. He put the rods down beside him. “Where is everybody?”
“The keg,” I said, nodding toward it.
Talk about forever: the next silent minute seemed to go on for that and longer. I had a picture of a school clock in my mind, those final seconds of the hour when the minute hand just trembles, as if willing itself to jump to the twelve. Say something, I told myself, sneaking a glance at Wes. He hardly seemed to be noticing this lapse, instead just watching the crowd in the middle of the clearing, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. Once again I could see the very bottom of the tattoo on his upper arm. Kristy had told me to live, whatever that meant in all its variations, and her words were still resonating. Oh well, I thought, here goes.
“So what is that?” I asked him, forcing the words out, then immediately realized I was looking at him, not at his arm, so this question could concern just about anything. He raised his eyebrows, confused, and I added—face flushing, God help me— “your tattoo, I mean. I’ve never been able to see what it is.”
This full sentence, an inquiry to boot, seemed to me on par with Helen Keller finally signing W-A-T-E-R. I mean, really.
“Oh,” he said, pushing up his shirtsleeve. “It’s just this design. You saw it that first day you came out to Delia’s, right?”
I felt myself nodding, but truthfully I was just staring at the black, thick lines of the design, now fully revealed: the heart in the hand. This one was, of course, smaller, and contained within a circle bordered by a tribal pattern, but otherwise it was the same. The flat palm, fingers extended, the red heart in its center.
“Right,” I said. Like the first time I’d seen it, I couldn’t help think that it was familiar, something pricking my subconscious, as weird as that sounded. “Does it mean something?”
“Sort of.” He looked down at his arm. “It’s something my mom used to draw for me when I was a kid.”
“Yeah. She had this whole thing about the hand and the heart, how they were connected.” He ran a finger over the bright red of the heart, then looked at me. “You know, feeling and action are always linked, one can’t exist without the other. It’s sort of a hippie thing. She was into that stuff.”
“I like it,” I said. “I mean, the idea of it. It makes sense.”
He looked down at the tattoo again. “After she died I started tinkering with it, you know, with the welding. This one has the circle, the one on the road has the barbed wire. They’re all different, but with the same basic idea.”
“Like a series,” I said.
“I guess,” he said. “Mostly I’m just trying to get it right, whatever that means.”
I looked across the clearing, catching a sudden glimpse of Kristy as she moved through the crowd, blonde head bobbing.
“It’s hard to do,” I said.
Wes looked at me. “What is?”
I swallowed, not sure why I’d said this out loud. “Get it right.”
He must think I’m so stupid, I thought, vowing to keep my mouth shut from now on. But he just picked up one of the rods he’d carried over, turning it in his hands. “Yeah,” he said, after a second. “It is.”
Kristy was now almost to the keg. I could see her saying something to Monica, her head thrown back as she laughed.
“I’m sorry about your mom,” I said to Wes. I didn’t even think before saying this, the connotation, what it would or wouldn’t convey. It just came out, all on its own.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” he replied. We were both looking straight ahead. “I remember him from coaching the Lakeview Zips, when I was a kid. He was great.”
I felt something catch in my throat, a sudden surge of sadness that caught me unaware, almost taking my breath away. That was the thing. You never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it’s reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you and it just hits you all over again, that shocking.